Wow. The mailbox is stuffed and I’ll start work soon to get as many questions answered as I can on Friday. No promises I can get through all of them as there is much draft news to hunt down.
Defensive tackle Tommie Harris was honored at Maryville Academy Tuesday afternoon at a luncheon in which he was given the Ed Block Courage Award. Harris showed up with coach Lovie Smith and a few teammates and owner Virginia McCaskey and team president Ted Phillips were also on hand.
Phillips got hit with some questions about linebacker Brian Urlacher, who is seeking more money. Urlacher had neck surgery this offseason and is coming off his first non-Pro Bowl season that was not shortened by injury. He has been absent from the first two days of the voluntary offseason program, which began Monday.
``You know what, he didn’t come to all the workouts last year either so we understand, he told Lovie,’’ Phillips said. ``Obviously, we’d like 100 percent participation and I think we’ve been spoiled over the years because we’ve gotten very close to that and sometimes it turns out that players don’t want to come for different reasons, we respect that. We’ll still try to get him here as soon as possible. Because he's a leader of our team, he's the face of our organization and we want him here.’’
Q: How do you characterize the talks with Brian?
Phillips: There have been discussions with his representatives, and I'd say they're cordial.
Q: How important are talking with Brian and Tommie?
Phillips: Well, let's face it. Tommie Harris, Brian Urlacher, they're important to us. That's why we're engaged in discussions with them. We want to get those two guys done, that's our philosophy. We believe in rewarding our own, and that's what we intend to do, hopefully in both of their cases.
Q: Is there a timetable?
Phillips: No, not really. Obviously, the sooner the better so I don't have to keep answering these questions for the next three months, but other than that.
Q: Why extend Urlacher when he has four years remaining on his contract?
Phillips: I never said we were talking about an extension. I never said that. I said we were talking to his representatives about how to look at his contract and try to educate them on the value of his deal. He signed a long deal, so ...
Q: The money was good then?
Phillips: It was. It still is.
Here is more of Phillips’ chat with media:
Q: Is the collective bargaining agreement a problem?
Phillips: I hope not. All I can say about it is the league is doing a lot of analysis, they're looking at the situation on the CBA and how much player costs are going to be in the future and the goal is to work out a new extension with the union. That's what everybody's hope and goal is.
Q: Do owners, including the Bears, need to opt out of the deal?
Phillips: I don't really have a feeling on it. The goal is not to do that. The goal is get the analysis done, make an informed decision. I think it's in both sides best interests to get a deal done, and I think the union feels that way and the teams feel that way and the league feels that way.
Q: But players don’t want to give a dime back?
Phillips: Well, again, it's in everyone's best interest to have a deal so that's really all I can say right now. IT's in the hands of the league right now and they're doing a good job in analyzing the situation on behalf of the member clubs.
Q: How big of an issue was that in Florida at the owners’ meetings?
Phillips: It was discussed obviously but I've been going to meetings for 20-something years and every year it's TV and player costs become a focus of the meeting so it was kind of business as usual.
Q: Is it disappointing Urlacher has not shown up at Halas Hall for workouts?
Smith: We have voluntary workouts that started up yesterday. Some of the guys can't participate for different reasons, that's part of it in the off-season. Brian's one of our guys, eventually he'll be here and it's not much of a concern to me really.
Q: Has the QB competition between Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton begun?
Smith: All of our competitions have started. Once you start up the new year, you start back from scratch. That's what we're doing at every position. It's exciting to see some of the players for the first time, just to get the group back together as a team to get started for the next year. 2007 was disappointing, now 2008 is here, and we're excited about it.
Q: Is anyone currently limited by injuries besides Cedric Benson?
Smith: We have a few guys that are a little banged up, but nothing serious. Even Cedric looked pretty good yesterday. We don't have anyone that's really a concern as far as injuries.
Q: Is Brian hurt at all by missing the voluntary stuff?
Smith: It's just a part of it. I don't get too worked up about guys like that. If a player has some type of contract dispute that's going on, I realize in the off-season you take care of those things. In the end when we need Brian there, he'll be there.
Q: Will you handle it the same way you treated the absences of Lance Briggs and Thomas Jones in the past?
Smith: Well I didn't discipline those guys. When it's voluntary work you look at it just like that. But once the new year starts, you start from scratch then. You can't really pencil anyone in until you see them for the first time. That's how I handled those situations then and that's how we do it each year.
Q: How important is it for you to get a deal done?
Harris: I would love to be a Bear. I'm looking forward to it and I'm patiently waiting.
Q: Are you optimistic?
Harris: I'm very optimistic. I'll leave the negotiations to the front office and my agent. I feel like they're going to do a great job, so right now I'm just staying focused on the offseason workouts and get my body in the best shape possible to go out and do it again.
Q: Do you have a deadline?
Harris: No, not really a deadline. I owe them one year so there's not really a deadline.
Q: How important o get it done before the season starts? If not would it be a distraction?
Harris: I don't know. Right now it's not a distraction but to have security over your career or to guarantee security and to be able to get paid for your accolades, I believe that's what all of us do, and that's what we all come to work for. It would be a great deal (if we get it done), but I owe the Bears a year, so it's going to be great if it happens, but if it don't, it's expected if it doesn't.
Q: What about the big deals for a guy like Tommy Kelly?
Harris: Not only Tommy Kelly, but when you look at guys like Shaun Rogers for his third contract and Kris Jenkins and guys like that, it just shows you that this position how important it is, and then the Giants with them winning the Super Bowl it just shows you how important the defensive tackle position or the d-line position as a whole is, and they do get paid well.
Q: If a deal is not finished, would you boycott voluntary offseason work?
Harris: I don't know. That discussion is between my agent and management. But I believe that the Bears handle themselves very professionally in getting deals done all the time so I'm looking forward to staying a Bear.
Q: Do you and Urlacher have to fight over money?
Harris: No. You heard Jerry [Angelo] say there's more than enough money to go around for all of us, so we'll leave it at that.